Cow’s Moo Kills Child: Stories of Being Scared to Death

screaming

Does anybody remember the 1958 William Castle film, Macabre, where movie-goers got life insurance in case they died of fright? It is that sensational theme—death by terror—that we focus on today. We casually toss around phrases like: “I was scared to death!” “I just about dropped dead when I heard the news!” Is there fear or perhaps an uneasy memento mori under these words?

It was axiomatic in the newspapers of the past that people could die of fright. We might call it something different now: Broken Heart Syndrome, takotsubo or stress-induced cardiomyopathy. Typically, past news reports spoke of persons “frightened (or thrown) into convulsions.” Doctors certainly knew about things like heart failure, but it is interesting how often “dying of fright” is cited as a cause of death in thousands of news items. Whether or not it was true; it was certainly believed to be true. It may have simply been a journalistic convention–a convenient way to explain an unexplained death, or a way to make a story more sensational.

Here’s a snippet from a longer article that gives some standard contemporary medical wisdom about death from fear:

FRIGHTENED TO DEATH The Shock Which Ends Life With a Broken Heart

[British Medical Journal.]

The serious effects of shock to the nervous system, especially by fright, are constantly witnessed, the results being most commonly syncope and convulsions. Death itself is, fortunately, comparatively rare. It is reported in the newspapers to have occurred at Brockley on March 21st, in the case of a girl aged eighteen, who was frightened to death by a man dressed as a ghost, near the Deptford Cemetery. The pathology of emotional death is of great interest, and varies in different cases. In some instances a fatal issue results from sanguineous apoplexy; in others, and much more frequently, from shock to the heart. Examples of the former are recorded by Dr. D. Hack Tuke in his “Influence of the Mind Upon the Body.” Thus a woman at Bradford received a fright from a man throwing a stone against her window. He had previously threatened her. She soon afterward complained of numbness, and rapidly became insensible. There was right hemiplegia. She died in seven hours, and on post-mortem examination a clot of blood was found in the left lateral ventricle….[I]f the heart, as in Hunter’s case [John Hunter, the eminent doctor and surgeon for whom the Hunterian Collection is named], be strongly contracted on its contents and the blood expelled, one efficient cause of syncope with fatal results is present. Probably this was the pathological explanation of this unfortunate girl’s death from the silly practical joke played upon her. She arrived home after her fright in the road by the Deptford Cemetery at Brockley looking very ill and excited. She is said to have taken off her water-proof, drawn a chair to the table to take supper, then fallen forward with her head on the table, and died after a short struggle. Mr. Hollis, the medical man who was called in, made a post-mortem examination and reported that all the organs were healthy, but that the state of the heart, combined with the fright, would account for death. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 29 September 1883: p. 10

Thunder, lightning, trains, mad dogs, earthquakes, sudden noises, glare from an automobile headlight, comets, Fourth of July fireworks, encounters with tramps and the insane: all were mentioned as causes of death by fear. Burglars were a particularly common cause of death, so common, in fact, that if you read that a lady, frightened by a burglar, dropped dead of heart failure before the alarm could be raised, The End, you’ve pretty much covered that category.

A more interesting cause of death was the apparition. In this case, the “ghost” was the lady’s doppelgänger, which she rightly understood as an omen of her own death.

Mrs. Coombes, Wife of one Coombes, a Chairman; her Death was occasioned by a Fright, being far gone with Child; for going into the Cellar, to all Appearance well, she gave a great Shriek, her Husband running down to her to know the Reason, she declar’d she saw her own Apparition in a Winding Sheet, standing before her; nor could any Arguments deface the Impression made on her Mind, so strongly did she believe it. She sickened immediately, and died soon after. Whitehall Evening Post Or London Intelligencer [London, England] 3 January 1761: p. 2

DIED OF FRIGHT

Miner Sees an Apparition and the Scare Proves Fatal.

[Susquehanna (Penn.) Cor. New York Press.]

Robert Montgomery, a well-known resident of Wanamie, Penn., recently died from fright or a belief that he had been warned of his approaching death, and that he had a premonition that he could not live.

Montgomery, who was a brave soldier in the war, was employed in a coal mine near Wilkesbarre. Tw weeks before he died he said that when working he head a peculiar noise in the mine. He paid no attention to it.

Soon a strange feeling came over him as though there was a strong draught circulating through the mine, and he became chilly. He looked up from oiling the machinery at the repetition of the strange noise. He said he felt as though there was some one else there besides himself, but he could not see any one.

Then he beheld something white like a man’s figure. It moved as though floating in the air and kept a certain distance from him. He spoke to the apparition, but it made no answer and soon disappeared.

Montgomery made search, but did not find anyone. He told his friends that he regarded the wraith as an omen of death. He at once gave up his position, and in two days took to his bed, although he had no specific sickness which the physicians could discover. He continued to talk of the wraith, and said it was of no avail to take medicine because he was doomed.

His friends tried to dispel his thoughts about death by saying that the “supposed” wraith was a man sent into the mine by the company to see if he performed his duty. But Montgomery would only believe that it was an omen of death, and gradually grew weaker until he died. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 5 December 1896: p. 11

Fake ghosts/supernatural creatures were one of the most popular causes of death by fear; they also drove a surprising number of the nervous into hopeless insanity.

MINER SCARED TO DEATH

Zanesville, O., Dec 25. Howard Mills, a miner living near Coaldale, was scared to death about midnight by some boys who rigged up a “ghost,” which with the aid of some thin paddles with hooks to swing through the air, was able to emit unearthly groans and shrieks. Mills was confronted with the machine while returning home late at night, and was so overwhelmed with the terrific noise and the suddenness of the apparition that he dropped dead in his tracks. He was a stalwart man, 47 years of age, and the father of six children.The Ohio Democrat [Logan, OH] 2 January 1902: p. 1

At Preston, England, two boys, Richard Foreshaw and Robert Mawdsley, have been committed for trial for manslaughter in frightening a young girl to death. They got a coffin and tied a string to it, placing it in a path where it would be passed by some young factory girls at dark and by drawing it along gave the girls a severe fright, from which one of them died the next day. Pittsfield [MA] Berkshire County Eagle 3 December 1858: p 2

At Bowling Green, Kentucky, a short time since, Miss Rochester, daughter of W. H. Rochester, died of fright occasioned by a rude boy having run after her, on her way to school, with a mask or false face on him. She ran, in her fright, into a pond of water, whence she was carried to her father’s house, where—when nature was exhausted by frequent convulsive or apoplectic fits—she expired: aged 5 years and 5 months. American Sentinel. Washington [DC] Globe 2 September 1833: p. 2

There is a tradition that [at “The Old Mansion”] an invalid wife was frightened to death by her husband placing a hideous mask at the window of her sick room, and that this husband, while enamoured of his housekeeper, affected great grief at his wife’s funeral, sitting his horse backward and demanding a sheet for his tears. Growing out of this tradition is another ghost story to the effect that the spirit of this woman haunted the house for many years and that groans, screams, stealthy footsteps and other fearful sounds, drove tenant after tenant away from the place. A History of Caroline County Virginia, Marshall Wingfield, 1924: pp. 356-58

The Frankfort Journal of Aug. 17th, has the following—In a school at Turin, superintended by the nuns of St. Joseph, the children having lately made a disturbance by uttering cries, the sisters threatened them with the apparition of the devil, if they continued to make a noise. Soon after, on a signal given, there appeared a chimney sweep dressed in a frightful garb, with horns and a fiery looking mouth. The children were so much frightened that some of them fainted. At the noise caused by this scandal, the house and street were soon filled with a crowd. At length the Rector of the parish came, and put an end to the shameful exhibition, but not till several of the children had died of terror.” Washington [DC] Globe 5 October 1833 p. 3

A LESSON TO PONDER ON.

William B. Drees, of Minster, is a raving maniac and thereby hangs one of the saddest tales that pencil ever sat down. It is a lesson of horror to the practical jokers, who are all too numerous.

Drees was a young man, his age being only twenty-four. As he was of a highly excitable temperament, he was early singled out a victim of those who foolishly believe pranks that cause terror and suffering to others are fun. One of those strange black nights when monstrous forebodings and awful shadows creep upon him, who is solitary and alone in its racking silence, a party of these crept noiselessly upon him, as he stood guard in an immense deserted factory and clothed in white sheets, suddenly arose about him as so many ghosts, uttering the most dreadful groans. Affrighted beyond measure he fled wildly into the outer darkness, running until he fell from sheer exhaustion. It was a great joke and excruciatingly funny, and the jokers almost split their sides with laughter, until they heard that Drees had been picked up in convulsions. Then they had some doubts about it and when they saw him started for the asylum shackled hand and foot, they realized the criminal folly of which they had been guilty. Portsmouth [OH] Times 11 April 1908: p. 6

A few nights ago Henry Waters, a youth, whose home is near Youngstown, Ohio, was aroused from his sleep by something in the room. He sat bolt upright in bed. The moon shone through a window, and as young Waters looked towards the light he saw a tall figure in ghostly attire slowly approaching. He spoke, but the ghost made no reply. Then he grasped his revolver, and thus armed and thus emboldened said: “If you are a man I kill you; if you are ghost this won’t hurt you.” He pulled the trigger and report came, but as with quick motion the ghost lifted an arm Waters heard the bullet rebound against the headboard of the bed. This sent a cold chill through the youth, but he discharged his revolver again and again, and then, wild with fear, hurled it at the intruder. At that moment the ghost threw off his disguise, several other parties to the joke came laughing in and lights were struck. The merry-makers had drawn the bullets from the pistol, leaving enough powder to make a report, and at each discharge the play-ghost had thrown a bullet against the headboard. All this the practical jokers expected Waters to enjoy, as he was a jovial fellow, but they found him first dazed, then incoherent, then raving, and now, as his parents fear—a maniac. New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette [Concord, NH] 16 March 16 1882: p. 2

While fainting at the sight of blood is a cliché, dying at the sight of it was actually not uncommon.

New York, May 22. Fright resulting from the discovery that the front of her shirt waist was covered with a crimson stain was responsible, physicians believe, for the death of Mrs. Kate Harding, a widow, 33 years old, of No. 301 Webster Avenue, Parkville, who was accidentally stabbed in the breast by a sharp-pointed bread knife in the hand of her sister, Mrs. Rose Logomasin, this morning. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 23 Mary 1908: p. 2

A singular death is reported from Darion, England. A young lady, the daughter of a surgeon, happened to go into a kitchen where a butcher was in the act of killing a brace of ducks. Seeing blood running from one of the birds she fainted and, being removed to a couch, died almost immediately. Death is supposed to have resulted from the shock occasioned to the nervous system, the young lady having a great aversion to the sight of blood of any kind. Macon [GA] Telegraph 10 August 1865: p. 3

Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome is a recognized, if elusive disease, perhaps related to the Old Hag. This man seems to have had something similar.

HIS FOES

Attacked Him in a Dream and Wilcox Died of Fright When He Woke Up.

Marion, Ind., September 20. Peter S. Wilcox, aged 60 years, awoke his wife at 4 o’clock this morning by springing up in bed and fighting an imaginary foe. Mrs. Wilcox attempted to rouse him from what appeared to be a dream, but before she could do so he fell back on the bed and died. Physicians declare he had died of nightmare.

Mrs Wilcox said her husband was subject to nightmare and that he had been frightened a number of times, believing he was murderously attacked. She said he often told her of what he had experienced in the dreams and that he feared he would not recover from the shocks. Wilcox apparently was in excellent health. He owned a large fruit and garden farm and worked yesterday. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 September 1906: p. 1

Others did not have to dream, their enemies were real.

 DIED OF FRIGHT

Caused By Her Husband’s Threat To Kill Her.

The curtain fell on the final act of a remarkable domestic tragedy when Mrs. Florence Buehler expired in the County Hospital. The woman actually died from fright.

Her husband was Ernest Buehler, and her life for a long time had been most unhappy. Several months ago she applied for a divorce, but friends effected a truce between herself and her spouse. Two weeks ago, however, the family troubles again became acute when Buehler threatened his wife with a revolver. The woman left her home at 5220 Maplewood Avenue with the purpose of visiting a lawyer’s office, but was waylaid by Buehler, whose actions became so menacing that Mrs. Buehler in her terror fell unconscious. In this condition she was taken to the hospital.

Buehler was arrested, and in a cell in the Twentieth Precinct Station pricked his wrist with a pin, causing great loss of blood. He was then removed to the County Jail Hospital where he succeeded in killing himself.

Meanwhile Mrs. Buehler hovered between life and death. Two days ago she was told of her husband’s suicide. This news intensified the first shock, and she sank rapidly until death came to her relief. It is not known that the couple had any relatives in Chicago. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 19 September 1900: p. 6

Animals could also die of fright:

The Lafayette Courier says that a farmer on the line of the Valley Road, near Delphi, had a valuable colt frightened to death a few days since, by the whistle of a locomotive. The colt was over two years old, and one of the farmer’s sons was engaged in breaking him to harness. While standing near the track of the railroad, a train came thundering along—the engine gave a shrill and long continued whistle, which so frightened the animal that he plunged forward, and after running about fifty yards, fell dead. The Vincennes [IN] Weekly Western Sun 25 April 1857

While the parade was passing Rohrbacher & Allen’s store Friday, a horse owned by F.F. Fenn of Tallmadge dropped dead. He was frightened to death by the big elephant. It is said he burst a blood vessel. His remains were at once removed to the bone yard. Akron [OH] Daily Democrat 15 September 1899: p. 4

Captain Godfrey, of the 7th Cav., said: “I once saw a cat frightened to death. It was one that used to play with my children at West Point. It was playing around the baby carriage with a child, when Prof. Bassey’s big dog came up. He made a grand rush at the cat, but stopped within 10 feet of it. The cat braced itself up, bowed its back, assumed a defensive attitude, and prepared for war. I drove the dog off, and going to the cat, put my hand on its back, when it fell over. It never moved. It was dead. There was no frothing at the mouth, nor any of the contortions seen in fits. The cat was simply scared to death.” The National Tribune [Washington, DC] 25 December 1890: p 5

At the Brighton review of English volunteers a horse, died of fright. He was near the 18 pounder battery when it was fired, and at the report he leaped suddenly up and fell dead— the cause, a rupture of the great vessels of the heart, through terror. Vincennes [IN] Gazette 31 May 1862

Our Dumb Chums could also be the cause of sudden death. This piece is from James Rodwell, who wrote so eloquently about the perils of rats in a previous post.

Unhappily, however, these rat-frights do not always terminate so harmlessly as in the preceding cases…The “Presse,” of Paris, some time ago related an extraordinary case of death from fright. A young woman was passing near the Rue Cadet, when she suddenly fell to the ground, exclaiming “The rat! the rat!” At first nobody could comprehend the meaning of her exclamations; but on being taken into a druggist’s shop, and placed on a chair, a rat was seen to run from beneath her gown. It was then evident that the rat, which had come from a sewer just as she was passing, had got between her legs, and that, when she fell from fright, it had concealed itself under her clothing. She was taken home to her friends, in a state of delirium, which lasted four days, during which time the only words she uttered were “The rat! the rat!” but on the evening of the fourth day she expired.

Now here was a melancholy occurrence arising out of this immoderate fear of rats. What had the rat done to her? Nothing whatever, except hiding in her clothes, and making its escape as soon as possible. Yet from the veriest fear she becomes deranged, and dies a maniac. The Rat: Its History & Destructive Character, With Numerous Anecdotes, by James Rodwell, (Uncle James.) 1858

FRIGHTENED TO DEATH BY A CAT

Animal Jumps on Bed in St. Louis Hospital and Patient Dies From the Shock

Shortly before the death of Mrs. Mary Ziegler of 1210 North Spring Avenue, St. Louis, a cat gained entrance to her room in the hospital, where she had undergone a critical operation. The cat clawed at her and frightened her to death.

It was near midnight before the physician in charge had succeeded in getting her to sleep. The nurse, wearied with her constant watching, was also asleep.

The patient awoke to find a cat on her bed. Then followed a shriek and a howl. The woman’s cries awakened the nurse, who rushed in to the room to find a gray cat tearing the covers around the patient. The nurse made a clutch at the animal, but it eluded her hand and, leaping from the bed, ran from the room. She chased it through the halls and it was finally cornered and put out of the building. When the nurse returned to the ward the patient was shaking with terror, and it was found that he shock had wrecked her nervous system. She died before morning. Evening News [San Jose, CA] 7 August 1906: p. 3

Near Chappell’s Gap, Ky., a three-year-old girl was frightened to death by a gander which had attacked her.Daily Public Ledger [Maysville KY] 7 April 1911: p. 1

COW’S MOO KILLS CHILD

Baby Frightened into Convulsions When Wandering Bovine Puts Head in Window

Investigation by Dr. H. Albert McMurray, coroner of Westmoreland County, into the death of James Henry Pershing, 3-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Pershing of Grapeville revealed that the child literally was frightened to death.

Several days ago the boy was playing when a cow at pasture in a lot adjoining the house looked in at an open window of the room where the child was. As the little one glanced toward the window the cow mooed loudly.

With a scream the child collapsed and went into convulsions. A physician was unable to give the boy any relief, and death ensued twelve hours later. Greensburg (Pa.) Dispatch Philadelphia Record. The Tulsa [OK] Star 18 December 1915: p. 7 

A Lady Frightened to Death. The Rockingham (Va.) Register states that Mrs. Dietrick, wife of Mr. Jacob Dietrick, residing near Mt. Crawford, in that county, was frightened to death a few weeks since. Her little daughter for sport threw a tree-frog upon her lap, which began jumping up towards her face, and so frightened her that she died in two or three days. Daily National Intelligence [Washington, DC] 15 June 1852: p. 3

I assumed 20th-century medical advances would wipe out “death by fear,” but the term lingered on. I was surprised to see a 1994 news story about a man who, the police said, apparently died of fright while accusing another driver of trying to run him over. Any later examples? And have any of you actually seen a death certificate where the cause of death is “fear?”  Notarize and rush to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Hearse Seen on Way to Wedding is an Ill-Omen: 1904

classical hearse 1904

Hearse Met on Way to Wedding: Death Follows.

A strange wedding tragedy was the subject of investigation by the Plymouth, England, coroner yesterday.

On Wednesday Mary Dicker, the wife of a laborer, set out with her husband and daughter for the church where the latter was to be married to a young man named Menhennitt. On their way the wedding party met a funeral procession, and Mrs. Dicker was so much affected by this evil omen that she trembled violently all the way to the church, and declared that some calamity was bound to follow.

In the evening the bridegroom’s father gave a wedding party, and Mrs. Dicker, who seemed by that time to have recovered form her fright and to be in the best of spirits, was asked to sing a song. She did so, while still sitting in her chair.

In the middle of the song she fell forward and it was thought that she had fainted. She was carried into an adjoining bedroom, and a doctor was sent for, but before he arrived the morning’s ill omen had been fulfilled and she was dead.

It appeared that she had suffered a good deal from heart trouble, though the symptoms had disappeared during the last 12 months. Dr. Croft Symons stated that death was due to syncope brought on by the excitement of the morning.

A verdict of “death from natural causes” was recorded.

Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 18 February 1904: p. 5

It was a popular superstition that seeing a hearse or a mourning coach on one’s wedding day was a deadly omen for the marriage. There was also a belief that a bride who saw a hearse on her wedding day would lose all of her children.

On a foggy morning last week…a bridal party consisting of two young women with enormous bouquets, and two very nervous looking young men, drew up in a four-wheeler at the entrance to a registry-office, situated in one of the meanest of the mean streets off Islington. Just as they were all alighting, a hearse, meandering along in the fog, collided with the cab, and for the moment the wheels became interlocked. Bridegroom, bridesmaid, and the best man were in no way disconcerted. But, alas! For the poor little bride the harmony of the day was broken. Bursting into tears she declared that nothing would induce her to get married “with a hearse for an omen.” And neither laughter, chidings, nor entreaties served to shake her resolve. Back into the cab she got, bouquet and all, and in a few minutes the very woe-begone quartet drove off. Inangahua Times, 7 April 1897: p. 4

The Islington bride sensibly postponed the festivities, while the following bride did not. A word to the wise…

BRIDE’S FATAL SUPERSTITION

Portsmouth, Eng. While a Portsmouth woman was going to church on her wedding day her taxicab overtook a funeral procession. She regarded it as an ill omen and was disposed to postpone the ceremony, but was dissuaded by friends. The bride, however, was depressed. A fortnight after she became ill and died. Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times 16 September 1920: p. 16

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Father’s Ghost Fetches the Dying

Father's Ghost Fetches the Dying Image from http://ginva.com/2011/01/creative-gravestone-architect-and-design/
Father’s Ghost Fetches the Dying Image from http://ginva.com/2011/01/creative-gravestone-architect-and-design/

For Fathers Day weekend, a fatherly “fetch” tenderly carries off two family members.

A Danbury Ghost Story

Woman Saw Dead Father Carry Her Mother Away – The Mother Found to Have Died at the Same Time.

Danbury, Conn., March 19. As Mrs. C. W. Lee of 55 Jefferson Avenue, this city, lay on a bed of sickness, it is declared that she saw the apparition of her father, Oliver B. Pettit, formerly of Brooklyn, who died sixteen years ago, enter the room across the hall, where her mother was, and carry her out in his arms.

Mrs. Lee avers that she distinctly saw her father walk through the hall, and heard him call his wife by name, and ask her to go away with him, pleading with her until she consented. At first, the wife, Mrs. Margaret Pettit of 39 Grove Street, Brooklyn, refused, but her love for her husband evidently overcame her fear, and the daughter saw the stalwart form of her father emerge from the room and disappear with his wife in his arms.

Mrs. Pettit had been visiting her daughter, and, although not ill, was in the habit of spending the morning hours in bed. Yesterday she remained in her bed later than usual, and it was at noon that her daughter saw the vision. Calling for her husband, Mrs. Lee told him what she had seen, and Mr. Lee, hurrying to the room of his wife’s mother, found her dead. Her death must have occurred at exactly the moment when Mrs. Lee saw her father enter the room. A physician later said that Mrs. Pettit died from heart failure. The New York Times 20 March 1900: p. 1

I thought this was an interesting version of a “fetch” story, where the ghost was seen literally carrying off the dying.  The story appears in The Ghost Wore Black.  A few months ago, while researching background for The Victorian Book of the Dead, I was surprised to find a sequel.

HER FATHER’S SPIRIT

Beckoned to Her, and Though Recovering, She Soon Died.

When Mrs. Charles Lee died, at Danbury, Mass., last week, it was in peaceful resignation and with the conviction that her father’s spirit was bearing her away.

She had been waiting for five days for his coming—ever since she saw the ghostly visitor bear away her mother in that strange vision. That it was not the malady from which she had been suffering that caused Mrs. Lee’s death there is the testimony of the doctors. She was convalescing from an operation, and, so far as it was concerned, was out of danger.

That Mrs. Lee became conscious in some mysterious way that her mother, Mrs. Margaret Pettit, was dying, there can be no doubt. Mrs. Pettit left her home at No. 39 Grove Street, to go to nurse her daughter in Danbury. When Mrs. Pettit went to bed on Saturday night she was apparently in excellent health.

Her daughter gave the first news of the mother’s death. She told her husband that something had happened—that her mother was dead—and then Mrs. Lee swooned.

When Mrs. Lee had partly recovered she told those about her of her vision. She said she had seen the spirit of her father, who has been dead for 16 years, enter her mother’s room and say:

“Margaret, come with me.” She had seen her father take her mother in his arms, and, as they moved away they paused before Mrs. Lee, she said, and her father paused and beckoned to her, saying she would soon follow them.

Since that vision Mrs. Lee has hovered on the borderland between life and death. A great part of the time she has been delirious or in a state of coma. But in her lucid intervals she talked constantly of the vision and of her own summons.

Nothing could shake her conviction that her father’s spirit would return for her. When she was perfectly sane she said she was only waiting. She knew she would never get well.

She spoke of it when her husband and son were called to her bedside, and she said good bye to them. She told them she believed that they would soon join her, that the summons was for all of them, and that the family would be united in the beyond.

She died with her mother’s name on her lips. Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 28 March 1900: p. 3

Other Fathers Day posts: about a ghostly image of a father and daughter appearing in a window after his death. A father who followed his child, literally, to the grave.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Nurse Brought Death: c. 1910s

 

 

 

1921 nurse by crib

A Persistent Warning

I had been about five years married. My husband was a…business man, healthy and strong, and we were the possessors of two dear little girls, and very happy. As usual we started on our summer holiday, but, after the second week, I noticed a distinct change in my husband; he looked tired and ill, and he was very irritable. He made no complaint and said he was all right; but I felt anxious to get home. It was on the night after our return that I went to bed feeling very tired and soon dropped off into a heavy sleep, but was suddenly awakened and heard the clock strike twelve. I rubbed my eyes and listened, and then I saw distinctly leaning on the foot of my bed, a nurse in uniform, with head bowed down. It gave me a start and I called out “Nurse.” This awoke my hubby, and he was ever so cross. I turned my head to tell him, but, when I looked again, she was gone. Of course, he said it was a dream, but it was not, and I slept no more that night. I did not mention the matter to anyone, fearing they would laugh at me. But the next night, I was awakened by my elder little girl calling. I went to her and found she was greatly frightened. She said a nurse had wakened her, and described the vision as I had seen it. I got into her bed, but it was a long time before she went off to sleep. It worried me so much that I sent for mother, and, before I had time to tell her anything, I heard the child telling her just as she had told me. Mother laughed about it and said she would stay all night. Imagine what I felt like when, just as the clock was striking twelve, mother called out: “The ‘nurse’ has awakened me.” My husband was furious at being wakened, as he said, by hysterical women, but in the morning we all looked so ill—my husband particularly so—that, without telling us, mother sent for the doctor. When she told my husband, he was furious, put on his hat and went out. I was sitting at the window waiting for doctor, when an ambulance drove up. I rushed to the gate and was met by the nurse. Then, out slipped the doctor. They carried my husband in. He had fallen in a faint in the road, just as doctor was on his way to the house. He sent for an ambulance, and the nurse came with it. I tried hard to get nurse to stay with me, but she could not. My husband had a terrible illness from which he never recovered properly. Nurse often came in person to see me. Then, one day, I had the sad news brought to me that “pneumonia” had claimed her. But, up to the time of my husband’s death, I often saw her and knew it was to prepare me for some trouble. As the clock was striking twelve midnight on December 21/96, nurse came to me again. I could not sleep, and put my hand under the pillow to get my flashlight. The flashlight would not work, so I felt for my husband’s. He said his was out of order, but he would take them in the morning to be repaired. Those were his last words. Later, I found him dead, but I have never seen nurse since.

Warnings From Beyond, Signs, Visions, and Premonitions told by “Daily News” Readers, S. Louis Giraud, editor, (London, UK: Fleetgate Publications, n.d.): pp. 12-13

Clock Foretells Death:1907

clock floral display
The Sad Hour funeral flower arrangement, 1902

CLOCK FORETELLS DEATH

Whenever It Stops Some Hapless Danbury Hatter’s Doom is Sealed

(The New York World.)

When the eight day clock in the office of the Danbury Hat Makers’ Association stops the superstitious hatters who gather there accept it as a sure sign that some Danbury hatter is about to take out a traveling card to the great beyond. The hat finishers, who have an office adjoining the hat makers, declare that when the makers brought their clock here they brought death with it.

The finishers and the makers have occupied adjoining offices in the Opera House block only a few months. The makers had an office in another part of the city. For many months previous to the time when the makers moved into an office connected with the finishers the latter had not had a death in the association for several months, according to H. C. Shalvoy, the secretary.

When the makers vacated their old quarters the new rooms were not ready for them, and desks and a clock were placed temporarily in the finishers’ office. Within two days the clock stopped and about the same time the death of a member of the Finishers’ Association was announced. The next week the clock stopped again, a maker passed away. Several times this coincidence occurred, until it finally attracted the attention of the officers of the Finishers’ Association. Even after the clock had been properly installed in the makers’ new rooms and removed from the finishers’ office it continued to announce impartially the approaching demise of hat makers and hat finishers alike. The two offices are connected by an always open door. Whenever a hatter dies a death benefit of $100 13 paid by the association to which he belongs.

Yesterday the clock stopped again at 11:35 a.m. President Simon Blake, of the finishers’ strolled over into the makers’ office and noticed that the customary tick could not be heard. It was then a few minutes after noon. He stopped and stared at the clock He was smitten with a sudden fear, not for himself, but for some poor hatter who was doomed and knew it not. Solemnly President Blake uttered this prediction:

“Within forty-eight hours some one will be dead.”

“Well, you know what to do,” cheerfully responded Secretary P. H. Connolly, of the Hat Makers’ Association, “Get your hundred dollars ready.” Before night there came to the office of the Finishers’ Association news of the death of Frederick Weindrof, Jr., at 2 o’clock p. m., of pneumonia.

President Blake declares that if the clock is not removed soon he will take an ax and smash it. Several old hatters who have been in the habit of making these offices a place for social gathering are never seen there now.

The Commonwealth [Scotland Neck NC] 23 May 1907: p. 1

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

The Ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots, Wails of Death on Christmas Eve: 1900

Here is a chilling Christmas Eve ghost story for Mrs Daffodil’s readers to tell during the haunted holidays.

The death-mask of Mary, Queen of Scots
The death-mask of Mary, Queen of Scots

GHOST OF DEATH Heard in the Tower of London Christmas Eve – A Bad Omen

London Cor. New York Journal.

The ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots, which appears in the Tower of London before the death of a crowned head, made itself heard on Christmas Eve.

The fact has been carefully concealed from the Queen because of the extreme grief into which the death of the Dowager Lady Churchill threw her, but it has caused the greatest alarm in court circles.

Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth in the Constable’s tower, and was led from it to execution in the tower quadrangle. Before the death of every King or Queen of England since her day her spirit has been reported as having appeared. An officer of the guard on duty in the Constable’s tower on Christmas Eve heard a long wail from the top of the tower. He stopped to listen and heard it again. Footsteps followed, and a third time the wail rang out over the fog-bound river and the sleeping city. He went to search for a cause but found none.

How severe a shock to the Queen was the death of Lady Churchill may be gathered from the following extract from today’s Court Circular.

“The Queen has sustained another and great loss in the death of the Dowager Lady Churchill, who had been a devoted and intimate friend of the Queen. Her Majesty, while sorely grieved by this sudden loss of one for whom she entertained the warmest affection, has not suffered in health from the great shock.”

Private reports say that Christmas at Osborne was a day of awful depression. The plans for its celebration were canceled, as the Queen’s condition of overpowering grief filled the house with gloom.

The Queen regards it as an evil omen that the last Christmas of the century should bring the angel of death under her own roof. This is the first death in a house with the Queen since that of the Prince Consort.

Lady Churchill was the Queen’s oldest and closest companion. They lived in personal intimacy, spent most of the day together and slept in adjoining rooms. What gave the Queen a particular shock was the knowledge that Lady Churchill died within a few feet of her, separated only by the thickness of a wall. Numerous recent tragedies, such as the deaths of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Christian Victor and several particularly respected old friends, added to this latest, have had a telling effect on the Queen

Superstitious people are prophesying many gloomy events and the ghost of Mary in the tower has caused more than a sensation. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 29 December 1900: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This is a curious story, mingling fact and completely falsehood. Mary Queen of Scots was never imprisoned in the Constable’s Tower (which was built in the 19th century on the site of a medieval tower that was used to house prisoners during the reign of Elizabeth I)  or anywhere in the Tower complex, and she was certainly not led out of it to her death in the “tower quadrangle.” She was held captive in various manor houses well away from London and was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.

1900 was indeed an annus horribilis for the Queen. Queen Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and, until 1893, the Duke of Edinburgh, died 30 July 1900. Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein was Queen Victoria’s grandson by her daughter Helena. He died 29 October 1900 of typhoid fever in South Africa. The Dowager Lady Churchill was Senior Lady of the Bedchamber and, as the article says, a close friend of Queen Victoria. She was found dead in her bed at Osborne House 24 December 1900, aged 74.  Queen Victoria mourned in her diary: “It is a horrible year, nothing but sadness & horrors of one kind & another.”

Mary Queen of Scots was a romantic figure to the Victorians and an overwhelmingly popular apparition (as she is, even today) so perhaps it is natural that she was believed to be the wailing ghost. The Habsburgs had their White Lady of the Hohenzollerns, who appeared before Imperial deaths. One wonders if the British Royal family felt that they needed their own royal death apparition even though there was a tradition (probably no older than the 19th century) that if the ravens at the Tower of London flew away either England would be conquered by her enemies or a member of the Royal family would die.  And a beautiful, beheaded queen is much more appealing than croaking black birds.  More likely this is a piece of journalistic poetic licence. Other, later versions of this piece elaborate on the basic story and add what appear to be quotes from guards at the Tower or describe how the ghost of Mary appeared to Queen Elizabeth I before her death.

Still, despite the historical inaccuracies, a wailing ghost–the banshee–would have been familiar to many readers of this story as an omen of death.  And a banshee keening in the dark within the haunted environs of the Tower is a perfect image for a Victorian Christmas ghost story.

However, Mrs Daffodil must point out that Queen Victoria died 22 January 1901.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Trouble Arising from a Doll’s Funeral: 1899

http://www.liveauctioneers.com
http://www.liveauctioneers.com

HOW THE VILLAGE WAS UPSET

CONSEQUENCES OF A DOLL’S FUNERAL

In front of the Stoners’ house two little girls, children of a neighbour, were playing with their dolls, when suddenly the younger of them said,

“I’ll tell you what—let’s play funeral.”

“How?” “Well, we can play that my Josephine Maude dolly died, and that we buried her.”

“That will be splendid! Let’s have her die at once.”

Immediately after the death of Josephine Maude her grief-stricken mother said:

“Now, Katie, we must put crape on the door-knob to let folks know about it. You run over to our house and get the long black veil mamma wore when she was in mourning for grandpa.”

Katie went away, and soon returned with a long black mourning veil. It was quickly tied to Mrs. Stoner’s front door bell; then the bereft Dorothy’s grief broke out afresh, and she wailed and wept so vigorously that Mrs. Stoner put her head out of an upper window and said:

“You little girls are making too much noise down there. Mr. Stoner’s ill, and you disturb him. I think you’d better run home and play now. My husband wants to sleep.”

The children gathered up their dolls and playthings and departed, sobbing in their disappointment as they went down the road.

Mary Simmons, who passed them a block above, but on the other side of the street, supposing the children to be playing at sorrow, was greatly shocked. She came opposite the house to observe the crape on the door knob.

“Mr. Stoner is dead,” she said to herself. “Poor Sam! I knew he was ill, but I’d no idea that he was at all dangerous. I must stop on my way home and find out about it.”

She would have stopped then if it had not been for her eagerness to carry the news to those who might not have heard it. A little further on she met an acquaintance.

“Ain’t heard ‘bout the trouble up at the Stoners’, have you?” she asked.

“What trouble?” “Sam Stoner is dead. There’s crape on the doorknob. I was in there yesterday, and Sam was up and round the house; but I could see that he was a good deal worse than he or his wife had any idea of, and I ain’t much s’prised.”

“My goodness me! I must find time to call there before night.” Mrs. Simmons stopped at the village post office, ostensibly to look for a letter, but really to impart her information to Dan Wales, the talkative old postmaster.

“Heard ‘bout Sam Stoner?” she asked.

“No. I did hear he was gruntin’ round a little, but—“

“He won’t grunt no more,” said Mrs. Simmons solemnly. “He’s dead.”

“How you talk!”

“It’s right. There’s crape on the door.” “Must have bene dreadful sudden! Mrs. Stoner was in here last evening, an’ she reckoned he’d be out in a day or two.” “I know. But he ain’t been well for a long time. I could see it if others couldn’t.”

“Well, well! I’ll go round to the house soon as Mattie comes home.” The news spread now from another source.

Job Higley, the grocer’s assistant, returned from leaving some things at the house full of indignation.

“That Mrs. Stoner hain’t no more feelin’ than a lamp-post,” said Job, indignantly, to his employer. “There’s crape on the door knob for poor Sam Stoner; an’ when I left the groceries Mrs. Stoner was cookin’ a joint, cool as a cucumber, an’ singing’ “Ridin’ on a Load of Hay,’ loud as she could screech, an’ when I said I was sorry about Sam, she just laughed an’ said she thought Sam was all right, an’ then if she didn’t go to jokin’ me about my courting Tildy Hopkins!”

Old Mrs. Peavey came home with an equally scandalous tale.

“I went over the Stoners’ soon as I heered ‘bout poor Sam,” she said, “an’ if you’ll believe me, there was Mrs. Stoner hangin’ out clothes in the back yard. I went roun’ to where she was, an’ she says, jest as flippant as ever, “Mercy! Mrs. Peavey, where’d you drop from?’ I felt so s’prised an’ disgusted that I says: ‘Mrs. Stoner, this is a mighty solemn thing,’ an’ if she didn’t jest look at me an’ laugh, with the crape for poor Sam danglin’ from the front door bell-knob, an’ she says, ‘I don’t see nothin’ very solemn ‘bout washin’ an’ hangin’ out some o’ Sam’s old shirts an’ underwear that he’ll never wear agin. I’m goin’ to work ‘em up into carpet rags if they ain’t too far gone for even that.”

“’Mrs. Stoner,’ I says, ‘the neighbours will talk dreadfully if you ain’t more careful,’ an’ she got real angry, an’ said if the neighbours would attend to their business she’d attend to hers. I turned an’ left without even goin’ into the house.”

The “Carbury Weekly Star,” the only paper in the village came out two hours later with this announcement in bold type:–

We stop our press to announce the unexpected death of our highly respected fellow-citizen, Mr. Samuel Stoner, this afternoon. A more extended notice will appear next week.

“Unexpected! I should say so!” said Mr. Samuel Stoner in growing wrath and amazement as he read this announcement in the paper.

“There is the minister coming in at the gate,” interrupted his wife. “Do calm down, Sam! He’s coming to make arrangements for the funeral, I suppose. How ridiculous!”

Mr. Haves the minister was surprised when Mr. Stoner opened the door and said: “Come right in, pastor; come right in. My wife’s busy, but I’ll give you the main points myself if you want to go ahead with the funeral.”

For the first time he saw the crape, and, taking it into the house, he called to his wife for an explanation. Later, they heard Dorothy Dean’s childish voice calling: “Please, Mrs. Stoner, Kate and I left mamma’s old black veil tied to your door-knob when we were playing over here, and I’d like to have it.”

Current Opinion, Vol. 17 1895

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In this era where black is more likely to be worn by bridesmaids than those attending a funeral, it is almost impossible for us to imagine the shock and dismay occasioned by the appearance of a crape streamer on the front door. It is difficult to think of a modern example of a similarly alarming object: an ambulance at a neighbour’s, or a parking ticket on the wind-screen only approximate the horrifying effect of crape on the door and the assumptions it generated.

Mrs Daffodil told of another crape contretemps involving a hungry goat in “The Goat Ate the Crape.”  And that crepuscular person over at the Haunted Ohio blog told of a terrifying example of how crape hung on the door could be a threat, in “The Thornley Crape Threat.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

You may read of other funeral contretemps, as well as stories of corpses, crypts, and crape in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Lost Art of the Coffin Threat


miniature coffinhttp://www.c2coffer.com/buy/10011939/DOLLHOUSE-MINIATURE-LINED-COFFINCASKET-WOOOD-NEW!.html

As I was researching The Victorian Book of the Dead, I ran across the now-forgotten art of the crape threat. The hanging of crape on the door was a well-known and terrifying symbol for death in a household. Some pranksters used crape to taunt or to tease—a young barber’s friends hung crape on his shop while he was away, as an unfunny practical joke, terrifying his sweetheart. One jilted suitor stole crape from another house and nailed it to the door of the woman he had hoped to marry. Crape was also a deadly serious threat, used, for example, in the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902, where the wife of a non-union miner was threatened with rocks and bullets through her window and crape on the doorknob.

In a similar vein we find the miniature coffin threat, a much subtler method of intimidation than waving a gun in someone’s face. While small coffins were sometimes used in student or fraternal organization ceremonies, and to symbolize dashed hopes or wishes for an opponent’s demise in political parades, generally if you found a miniature coffin in the mail or on your doorstep, you were in very real trouble.

THREAT

CONTENTS OF NOTE

Miniature Coffins and Threat leads To Two Deaths in Anderson

Anderson, July 16. What is supposed to have caused the killing of T.F. Ramey and Tom Hayes, and caused the arrest of Barney Ramey, the 18-year-old son of Tom F. Ramey, and W.L. Hayes, Ed Wilson, George L. Wilson and Allen Emerson, is a small coffin-like box, a crude, but effective imitation of a model coffin in which a note was left. The box and the note were left on the doorstep of Sante Bagwell, a relative of the dead man, Ramey.

What the note contained has been a matter of speculation and the Daily Mail has received a copy of the note as it was found in the coffin.

Sante Bagwell: We want to give you some straight business talk. You know the kind of house you are keeping and the trouble you are causing in the neighborhood and in families and we have stood for it as long as we are going to. This thing has been due six months. There are fifty men who say they will see a better neighborhood. You can get out, or be took out. The Abbeville [SC] Press and Banner 20 July 1921: p. 3

Angry that Tom Ramey had accused them of sending the coffin, Tom Hayes and four other men came to the Ramey home and began beating him. Mrs. Ramey begged them to stop and when one of the men went to hit her, son Barney Ramey shot Tom Hayes and killed him. Ramey was also shot by one of the intruders and died the next day. The men boasted to Mrs. Ramey that they had money and connections so that the law couldn’t touch them. Barney Ramey was arrested for shooting Hayes, but was acquitted after just 22 minutes’ deliberation. Incidentally, although I assumed that most of the coffins I read about were inch-to-foot scale—dollhouse size–in this case, the “miniature” coffin was 18 inches long.

In this next story, whether or not Mrs Glazier really was cuckolding her husband, the coffin  (the story is ambiguous as to whether it was a full-sized one or a miniature) was a heartless taunt, much as a gangster might send a wreath to a rival to say, “I’m gunning for you.”

A FATAL JOKE

A Wife’s Paramour Sends a Coffin to the Husband, Which Causes His Death.

[Boston Spec. to North American.]

A weird story of a coffin and the delirium it caused the invalid, for whose remains it was intended, comes from the town of Ipswich. Payson Glazier and his wife, with their two children, lived in Linebrook, near Ipswitch. Aaron Sanborn is a neighbor whose attentions to Mrs. Glazier have created more or less talk. A few weeks ago tomorrow there arrived at the Glazier house a coffin bearing a silver plate marked with the name Payson Glazier. The latter at that time was in perfect health. Mr. Glazier destroyed the coffin by smashing it with an ax and reported that Sanborn was responsible for the ghastly joke, if joke it was.

Glazier betrayed the utmost uneasiness over the episode, and when he fell sick with what was called typhoid fever his ravings were all about the coffin. He imagined that the coffin had some connection with his sickness. The other day he died, raving to the end about the coffin. Mrs. Glazier continues to receive and apparently to encourage the attentions of Sanborn, who has a wife living. There is some talk of Glazier having been poisoned, but no evidence to show it. Sanborn refuses to talk about the coffin, and Ipswich is discussing the sensation from all points of view. The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 May 1890: p. 17

Our Friends, the Cranks, also contributed coffin threats when their world views deemed them necessary.

 FINDS COFFIN MODEL IN MAIL

Military Secretary at Denver Startled by Package from Crank

Denver, Colo. Nov. 7. When Lieutenant Colonel Thomas F. Davis, military secretary of the department of the Colorado, United States army, opened his mail a few days ago he came across a large brown registered envelope, sent from Cripple Creek, and addressed to the army headquarters, Denver. It weighed perhaps half a pound.

The colonel opened it hurriedly and then jumped. For out of the envelope fell the model of a coffin, cut from a cigar box, and covered with black satin which had been cut and pasted on with mucilage.

The coffin was written over with strange devices and a couple of sheets of writing paper, scrawled over from top to bottom with daggers and skulls and cross-bones. Visions of bombs like Jacob Schiff got and of the Black Hand and of the Ku-Klux clans flitted across his brain as he rang for an orderly and a pail of water. [An “infernal machine” had been mailed in September to Jacob Schiff, an American financier. The package was stolen from a mailbox by a boy, so the plot was foiled.]

Further examination proved the package to be less dangerous than it looked. The writing was unsigned, and accepting that the package was sent from Cripple Creek, there was nothing to show who or what the sender was. The greater part of the writing was unintelligible, although here and there enough could be made out to show that the writer, evidently insane, had a fancied grievance against the army, and was threatening it with annihilation. The coffin, he explained, was sent to hold the general staff when he got through with them.

Colonel Davis returned the package to the postal authorities, marking on the cover, “Not intended for army headquarters,” and coffin and all are now in possession of the registry department. Post office inspectors are making an investigation of the affair. The sender is believed to be a harmless crank, although the orderlies at headquarters have received instructions to take no chances with queer looking individuals who visit headquarters in the next few weeks. Omaha [NE] World Herald 8 November 1906: p. 6

Voudou was a popular and exotic subject for late-19th-century newspaper stories, both fictional and non-fictional, so readers would have had a nodding acquaintance with fetish charms and spells.  Keep in mind that the journalists of this period were far from politically correct; the characterization of the “ignorant negro,” is, sadly, too often found in stories of African Americans and anomalies.

AN EMBLEM OF DEATH

A Miniature Coffin, Containing the Image of a Man, Found Under Strange Circumstances—Voudouism or Kuklux?

There still remains a relic of barbarism among the colored population of this city, which time and religion can only exterminate—a firm belief in fetish charms and obi. [obeah]. By the strange combination of toe nails, claws, intestines, hair and the like, the ignorant negro firmly believes that he can place an enemy under the spell of voudouism, or by having the “obi” on their person, like Achilles, they are invulnerable. Old negroes, men and women, that make voudouism a business, are looked upon by their race with awe, and their behests, no matter how preposterous, are implicitly obeyed, for fear of coming under the evil eye. At about one o’clock Friday morning, a strange and mysterious thing was found at the door of P. Dufour’s undertaking establishment, on Royal street, near St. Philip, which can be construed into an attempt at

A Fetish Spell,

Although were it in the country, and Mr. Dufour a carpet-bagging official, the circumstance would be termed “intimidation by the kuklux.”

At the hour above mentioned, Sergeant Baveroft, of the Third Precinct, noticed a candle dimly burning on the doorsteps of Mr. Dufour’s store, and thinking some of the night hawks were at work, the Sergt. Grasped his revolver and stealthily approached the spot. As he neared the place a strong gust of wind extinguished the candle, which had the effect of convincing the sergeant that it was indeed burglars plying their avocation. With a bound he jumped on the step, and by the expiring spark of a wax candle, to his horror, he saw

A Tiny Coffin,

Fringed around with black; the lid slightly pushed back, exhibited the image of a man made of some kind of red material.

Brought face to face with death in miniature, the Sergeant, no matter what his feelings were, exhibited no emotion but quietly raised the coffin and carried it to the Third Precinct Station.

An examination showed that the image was surrounded by a powder emitting a very pungent odor, which upon being inhaled by the curious officers caused them to feel as if the hand of sleep was gently pressing down their eyelids. Who put it there, or who went to the expense of money and labor to make this strange present, and what was the object, is yet a mystery, as no person for several hours previous had been seen in the vicinity. New Orleans [LA] Times 20 February 1875: p. 3

Does anyone more well-versed in Voudou ritual than I know the meaning of the red figure and the soporific powder?

Of course, such spells might backfire.

A St. Louis negro woman, arraigned in a police court for assailing her husband, proved that he had made a miniature coffin and inscribed it with her name, that being the voudoo mode of consigning her to the devil. She argued that such an outrage justified her in chastising him. The Daily Astorian [Astoria, OR] 20 April 1879: p. 3

While the target of the coffin found by the New Orleans police officer was a mystery, usually the point was clear to the recipient. There are frequent reports in the papers and in Congressional hearings about African Americans terrorized by coffins containing miniature nooses left on their property by the Klan or similar groups who made it clear what the consequences would be if the families did not clear out.

NEGRO IS WARNED BY COFFIN, NOTE

Monroe County Resident Told to Leave Community, He Reports to Police.

A sinister warning, composed of a note ordering him to “leave Georgia,” placed in a miniature wooden coffin, sent an excited Monroe county Negro to Macon police authorities Saturday afternoon.

The Negro, Whitman James, 52, lives near Montpelier Springs, about 17 miles from Macon.

James said he awoke at daylight to find the small coffin on his front porch in front of the door. On top of the coffin was the following message, written with pencil on tablet paper:

“Warning (printed in large letters across the top.) This is your warning to leave Georgia by Saturday. Your boys must go to. Or suffer.”

The small coffin had been expertly made. [Were these available commercially? Did you just walk into the undertaker’s showroom and ask for one? Was this a home crafts project for the kiddies?] It was of plain board, in an oblong shape, and had been lined inside much in the manner of regular coffins. It was about two feet long and about six inches wide in the widest part.

Enemies Unknown.

James hoped that the Macon police could examine the coffin and find its maker through fingerprints, but when it was learned that the coffin had been handled by many persons, Chief Ben T. Watkins shook his head doubtfully.

The chief held hope, however, that the hand writing would prove an important clew…

The Negro said that he “hadn’t done nothin’ wrong” in his whole life of 52 years, spent in the Montpelier Springs community, and did not know of any enemies.

He said he heard the clock “strike every hour” Friday night, and didn’t look forward to sleeping soundly Saturday night. He did not intend to leave the community if he had to stand guard every night with a gun, he said. Macon [GA] Telegraph 8 January 1933: p. 10

A high-profile example comes from 1915, when the family of Governor Charles Whitman of Rhode Island was sent letters threatening the kidnap and murder of the Whitman baby and packages containing daggers and miniature coffins with plates bearing the names of the Governor and his wife, one containing a message saying that they would soon need a full-sized coffin. As District Attorney, Whitman successfully prosecuted a New York City Police Lieutenant named Becker for the murder of Herman Rosenthal, a gambling house operator. While Governor, Whitman signed Becker’s death warrant and saw him executed. Becker’s supporters sent the threats and coffins when Whitman refused to stop the execution. [See Mike Dash, Satan’s Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York’s Trial of the Century (Reprint, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008).]

Jilted lovers also used the miniature coffin for spite or revenge.

DOLL POPPED FROM MINIATURE COFFIN

Washington, Jan. 7 A miniature coffin is not considered an acceptable Christmas gift for a young lady nor an attractive addition to Christmas tree decorations, according to the Rev. Harry Spencer, pastor of the Congress Heights Methodist Episcopal church, who today swore out a warrant for the arrest of Byron Sutherland.

Mr. Sutherland is charged with breaking up the recent Sunday School Christmas tree party by mixing in with the other gifts this gruesome donation, which, it is alleged, he had addressed to Miss Elizabeth Spalding, a pretty teacher in the Sunday school.

Sutherland denied that he was the sender, but Mr. Spencer has the word of the messenger who brought it to the church.

Miss Spalding unwrapped a large package which had the appearance of being a dozen long-stemmed roses, but, instead of roses, a two-foot coffin greeted her eye. When she lifted the cover a rubber doll leaped out. Columbus [GA] Daily Enquirer 8 January 1911: p. 5

Is it just my perverse imagination that sketches an entire lurid backstory for Mr. Sutherland and Miss Spalding involving furtive meetings, tearful recriminations, and criminal operations?

Other examples of threats with miniature coffins? And what, if any, relationship is there between coffin threats and the so-called “fairy coffins” of Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat? Enclose answers in a tiny Fisk patent burial case and send to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.  You can read more about the art of crape threats in The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available for Kindle.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Death by Owl

skull owl finis.JPG

This weekend begins the “International Festival of Owls,” and while we do find some touching stories of owls as pets and grudging acknowledgment that they keep down vermin, the papers of the past are more likely to report on owls killing domestic fowls or sheep, or on monster owls with 4-foot wingspans. Owls are silent, taloned killers and they have long been heralds of death. Even today some people believe that their call is a token of doom. It must have felt that way to this unfortunate Long Island woman:

OWL IS CAUSE OF SUDDEN DEATH

YOUNG WIFE SUCCUMBS TO ATTACK OF APOPLEXY

Heard Omen in Screeches.

Dies When Bird Flies Against Window

New York, June 15. Mrs. Josetta Coonan O’Neill, wife of James T. O’Neill, assistant corporation counsel in Brooklyn died suddenly in their summer home in Argyle Park, near Babylon, L.I., early yesterday, from apoplexy caused, it is believed, by fright when a screech owl flew against the window of her room just before she retired. Mrs. O’Neill for two days had lived in fear of the owl, a dark-feathered bird that had followed her about the grounds and had passed and repassed her husband and herself when they went out. Her dread is believed to have reached a fatal climax when the owl flew against the window in the darkness, screeching.

The body of Mrs. O’Neill last night lay in the home of her mother, Mrs. Thomas Coonan in Seventh street, Brooklyn, on the Park Slope, the home from which the young woman went forth a bride only last December.

Mrs. Coonan, who is an invalid, was in the Argyle Park home of her daughter when Mrs. O’Neill died. There was no warning that death was to visit the house. Mrs. O’Neill, only five minutes before her death, had passed into the room of her mother and kissed her good night. The younger woman then apparently was in her usual health. It is thought, however, she was suffering secretly through her fear of the owl, which at that moment was screeching dismally from the limb of a tree near the house, and that she concealed her fear for her mother’s sake.

Mrs. O’Neill was in the railroad station in Babylon at 5.40 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, when her husband arrived from Brooklyn, and together, as usual they walked to Argyle park. The owl was not then in evidence, for it was still daylight. After dinner, however, when O’Neill went out to rake a flower bed he had been preparing for his wife, the owl began to screech nearby. The flower bed is in front of the house and only 50 feet from the front porch where Mrs. O’Neill sat watching her husband. Suddenly she uttered an exclamation and her husband looked up to catch a glimpse of the owl that swiftly passed within a foot of his face, crying as it passed.

Three times the bird made the passage in front of him until, in exasperation; he threw his hoe at it. The hoe went over a fence and the owl perched again in a tree, letting out a succession of raucous screeches. To O’Neill it seemed as if the bird mocked him, and he tried to hit it with a stone, but the owl only flew away unharmed.

Mrs. O’Neill was much disturbed by the actions of the bird, which the night before had pursued her and her husband in their walk to the village. O’Neill hardly could persuade her to go out for their usual walk, but at last she went, though expressing a fear the owl would give them no rest. She said the persistence of the bird was an omen. Her husband treated the subject lightly, saying he would get a gun the next day, and end the bird and the omen too.

But Mrs. O’Neill’s fears of being pursued quickly were verified. Scarcely had they gained the street when the owl, out of the darkness, darted past their faces, uttering its hoarse scream. The bird, O’Neill observed, waited until it was passing before it screeched. Once it went so close to them its wings fanned their faces, and Mrs. O’Neill stopped, trembling, and grasped her husband’s arm, saying she could go no further. They had walked no more than 300 yards from home. They just had turned back when the owl again passed them, screeching. All the way to the house the owl passed and repassed, and at last Mrs. O’Neill’s terror became so great she released her husband’s arm when they almost had reached the steps and ran into the house, where she sank trembling into a chair. Her husband reassured her and afterward they sat on the porch and watched for the appearance of the bird, which at intervals flew close to the steps. By that time Mrs. O’Neill seemed to have recovered her courage, and laughed and chatted with animation. Afterward they went into the house where O’Neill wrote letters and Mrs. O’Neill read and commented on some of the articles she looked at. She still maintained the air of cheerfulness. It was almost midnight when they thought of retiring. Mrs. O’Neill’s last act was to kiss her mother.

Just after the wife entered their room, which is on the second floor, O’Neill left it for five minutes. It was in his absence the owl is thought to have struck the screen of the window. When O’Neill returned his wife apparently was asleep. Believing she merely was feigning sleep the husband pinched her earl slightly but she made no response. Then, becoming alarmed, he looked closely at his wife and observed her pallor. He called her mother and the maid and telephoned to Dr. Harold E. Hewlett of Babylon, who on arriving, said Mrs. O’Neill had died from apoplexy.

At dawn yesterday, the owl again flew near the room where lay the body of Mrs. O’Neill. In a second flight the bird flew against a screen door which gives egress from the room to a balcony.

The nurse who had been summoned and several others in the room saw the bird hurl itself against the screen as if to break its way into the room. It uttered its cry, fluttered to the floor of the balcony and then again flew to its favorite perch in a tree nearby. O’Neill, when asked last night about the owl, said it had persisted in following his wife and himself. The Argyle park home has been owned by the O’Neill family for 20 years, but Mr. O’Neill said he never had seen the owl until two days ago. O’Neill said the owl was not larger than an ordinary pigeon, but had a great spread of wings. Springfield [MA] Union 15 June 1911: p. 2

Now, I’m sure a naturalist would hoot at the idea that the owl had anything supernatural about it, and perhaps rightly so. Owls are intensely territorial. The “favorite perch” could have been its nest and it might have been defending its eggs or owlets. Owls are well known for attacking people who come too close. They sometimes hurl themselves against windows, believing the reflection is an intruder. One owl even attacked a window of a room where a stuffed owl was kept. But it does seem a little odd that the bird only showed up two days before Mrs. O’Neill’s death and that it attacked the room where her body was laid out.

Rational explanations aside, the owl is, of course, a token of death.  The unfortunate Mrs. O’Neill believed it had come for her and that she was doomed. Other headlines for this story also emphasized a belief that Mrs. O’Neill was scared to death. “Dies from Fear of Owl,” “Dread of Owl Causes Death.” “Bride of Three Months Scared to Death by Owl.” Even the New York Times’ headline read: “Hears Owl Screech; Dies,” although the Times article mentions that Mrs. O’Neill was also grieving for her father, who had died five weeks previously and that she had had a “nervous breakdown” over his death. In a post on people who died of fear, I cited “broken-heart syndrome,” which is triggered by a sudden loss or shock.

The “superstition” of believing that owls hooted of death was supposed by all educated and right-thinking people to have been wiped out by 1911 (except in isolated pockets of rural or ethnic ignorance).  A 1912 article rather scornfully stated that the barn owl was the source of more ghost stories than any other living creature, with its uncanny cry and ghastly face. Owls trapped in chimneys and furnaces were exposed as the source of haunted house rumors; eerie moans in burial vaults were revealed to be roosting owls. Such things really took all the fun out of folklore. But despite ridicule, there was a deeply-rooted belief in the malignity of owls.

A gravedigger had this to say:

“It seems like the graveyard is their natural element, especially when there’s lots of big trees and ivy-grown vaults. To hear an owl hoot in the night here, as I do sometimes, when everything is still, would make your blood run cold. They don’t keep it up right along through the night, so you can get used to it; but it will be quiet for a long time–so still that you get almost afraid to breathe, and the falling of the leaves startles you–then all of a sudden you’ll hear the long hoot-too-toot and a dull rushing in the air, as a big owl sails by and drops down upon a vault beneath the hill…

“I can always tell when there’s going to be a busy time here,” he continued. “When the owls are particularly plenty and keep up an awful hooting during the night I look for the funerals next day. They always come. When the owls hoot, it means funerals.”

“I don’t like owls,” the old man went on, scraping the red clay from his spade with the toe of his boot. “I don’t like ’em; they don’t mean good. Dead people are good enough in their way, I get used to them. But owls are a kind of half-dead and half-alive bird, and if t’warnt that I knew they couldn’t get at ’em, I’d believe they lived on dead people.” The Independent Record [Helena, MT] 9 December 1883: p. 9

A half-dead and half-alive bird. A perfect description of the skull-faced barn owl, silent and deadly one moment; screaming as if knifed the next. You’ll find a selection of owl calls here. Even knowing what is coming, they are unnerving.  A screeching owl dive-bombing out of the dusk; hitting window screens; screaming like a banshee–it is like something out of The Birds and it is no wonder that, in her weakened state, Mrs. O’Neill felt that a taloned angel of death had come for her. Death is the thing with feathers…

Other fatal owl attacks? Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Ghosts in Grave-clothes

 

Ghosts in Grave-clothes John Donne in his shroud, engraved by Martin Droeshout. He posed in his shroud for the portrait on which the engraving is based in and then kept it on until he died, five weeks later. National Portrait Gallery
Ghosts in Grave-clothes John Donne in his shroud, engraved by Martin Droeshout. He posed in his shroud for the portrait on which the engraving is based in and then kept it on until he died, five weeks later. National Portrait Gallery

A figure inexpressibly thin and pathetic, of a dusty leaden colour, enveloped in a shroud-like garment, the thin lips crooked into a faint and dreadful smile, the hands pressed tightly over the region of the heart.

“Lost Hearts,” M.R. James

Recently I’ve been digging up the dirt on burial shrouds, trying to determine exactly what the well-dressed corpse was wearing and when. While there is no doubt a certain esoteric charm in studying Z-spun tabbies and shrouding flannels, what I found even more fascinating was the ghosts who appeared clothed in their grave-clothes, often of a markedly archaic pattern. Andrew Lang gives us an striking example:

The most impressive spectre he [Andrew Lang] had ever heard of, he says, in substance, appeared in an English village. Half a dozen children who had been playing together in a house rushed out through the open door in a frightened state of mind, and one of them fell down in a fit. A lady who was driving through the village stopped, attended to the child who was lying on the ground before the horses, and asked the other children as to the cause of the panic. They said they had been playing on the staircase when “a dreadful woman” suddenly appeared among them. The only reason they could give for saying that the woman was dreadful was that she wore a long woolen robe and had her brow and chin bound up with white linen. “In fact,” says the writer, “she was a walking corpse come back from the days when the law compelled us to be buried in woolen for the better encouragement of the wool trade. This wandering old death, seen in the sunlight by the children, has always appealed to me as a very good example of ghosts and of their vague and unaccountable ways. For it is most unlikely that the children knew anything of the obsolete law of the ancient English mortuary fashions.” Religio-Philosophical Journal 7 February 1891: p. 578

“Buried in woolen” refers to the Burial in Woollen Acts of 1666-1680, requiring burial in a shroud of pure English wool.  The acts were resented and were largely ignored after the late 18th century. They were repealed in 1863. Obviously the walking dreadful woman was one of the unhappy woolen-shroud wearers.

Some of you may be familiar with the statue of John Donne depicted in his shroud, which is knotted on top of his head, as pictured in the engraving above. This ghost, seen in a church chancel, presented a virtually identical appearance, as well as making a curiously incongruous rustling noise.

Out of the Long Ago

In 1907 my late husband and I were visiting some friends when the subject of ghosts arose in conversation. My husband did not believe in spirits appearing from another world. I did, for I had seen my father who had, at the time, been dead over twelve months. He also spoke to me. I knew I was awake when I saw the apparition, for I awoke my husband to tell him, as I was frightened. As soon as my husband spoke, the apparition vanished. My mother also saw my father’s spirit twice, and she was the least imaginative of women. My husband’s friend, a young man of about thirty-two, said he believed in ghosts, for he himself had seen one when a boy. He then went on to elate the following remarkable story. I have put it down just as he gave it, without embellishments of any kind. “When I was about twelve or thirteen,” he said, “I visited some relatives in a village near London. About eleven o’clock one morning, I went with the vicar’s two boys, with whom I was friendly, to get a book from the vestry of the church where their father officiated. The elder of the two boys went to get the book, whilst the younger one and I went down the aisle to wait, and to pass the time until the book was found. Hearing a sound, I thought my playmate was coming for us, and looked up towards the chancel. Walking across the chancel I saw a tall figure shrouded in a sort of blanket affair, dull and drab and gathered on the top of the head, and tied in a bunch from which it hung down in folds over the figure, which was walking or gliding toward the vestry door. There was no sound of foot-falls, but, as the apparition moved, it made a sort of rustling noise, like walking amongst dry withered leaves. Thinking some one was playing a trick I followed, hoping to see the fun, but the figure vanished at the vestry door. I looked inside and asked my friend, who was not quite ready to leave, if any one had been into the room, and told him what his brother and I had seen. He answered that he had not seen or heard anything unusual. The church, for certain reasons, was always, except when in use, kept locked. My playmate of the church aisle was full of our adventure, and he told the vicar what we had seen. He strictly forbade us to repeat the story to any one, and went on to say if we did he would be exceedingly angry. His reason for keeping such a tale secret was obvious. When I grew up to manhood,” the narrator continued, “I received a letter one day, from a gentleman who lived, or had lived, in the village where I had seen the ghost in the church chancel. He enclosed me a sketch of the apparition, which he himself had seen when about sixteen years of age. He wanted to know if the drawing was like the figure I had seen. I wrote that it was exactly the same, except for the side face, which I did not remember to have seen. The side face was thin and keen, and the nose thin also, and very prominent. The writer went on to explain that he had heard I had seen the ghost and, like myself, in the broad daylight, and that he was very interested in looking the matter up.”

“In 1911 we called to see the relator of this story, when he at once mentioned that there had been further development in his ghost story. The gentleman who had sent him the sketch had written to inform him that the apparition had again been seen. He was inquiring the time and date of the previous appearances as he was anxious to ascertain if the uncanny visitor came at stated intervals. The shroud that covered the ghost was probably one of the very old-fashioned shrouds that used to be tied on the top of the head. Uncanny Stories Told by “Daily News” Readers, S. Louis Giraud, 1927: p. 30-31

Sometimes even the minutest details of the shroud were noted by a witness.

SPECTRAL ILLUSION

The following is one of the most remarkable of the ghost stories in Sir David Brewster’s late book:

About a month after this occurrence, [the appearance of her husband’s doppelganger] Mrs. A., who had taken a somewhat fatiguing drive during the day, was preparing to go to bed, about eleven o’clock at night, and, sitting before the dressing-glass, was occupied in arranging her hair. She was in a listless and drowsy state of mind, but fully awake. When her fingers were in active motion among the papillotes,[papers for making butterfly curls] she was suddenly startled by seeing in the mirror, the figure of a near relation, who was then in Scotland, and in perfect health. The apparition appeared over her left shoulder, and its eyes met hers in the glass. It was enveloped in grave-clothes, closely pinned, as is usual with corpses, round the head, and under the chin, and though the eyes were open, the features were solemn and rigid. The dress was evidently a shroud, as Mrs. A. remarked even the punctured pattern usually worked in a peculiar manner round the edges of that garment. Mrs. A. described herself as at the time sensible of a feeling like what we conceive of fascination, compelling her for a time to gaze on this melancholy apparition, which was as distinct and vivid as any reflected reality could be, the light of the candles upon the dressing-table appearing to shine full upon its face. After a few minutes, she turned round to look for the reality of the form over her shoulder; but it was not visible, and it had also disappeared from the glass when she looked again in that direction. On the 26th of the same month, about two P. M., Mrs. A. was sitting in a chair by the window in the same room with her husband. He heard her exclaim, “What have I seen?” And on looking on her, he observed a strange expression in her eyes and countenance. A carriage and four had appeared to her to be driving up the entrance-road to the house. As it approached, she felt inclined to go up stairs to prepare to receive company; but, as if spell-bound, she was unable to move or speak. The carriage approached, and as it arrived within a few yards of the window, she saw the figures of the postilions and the persons inside take the ghastly appearance of skeletons and other hideous figures. The whole then vanished entirely, when she uttered the above-mentioned exclamation. The Schoolmaster, and Edinburgh Weekly Magazine, Volumes 1-2, John Johnstone, Publisher, 1832: p. 221.

If the date on this story wasn’t much too early, we might suggest that Mrs. A. had been to Paris’s Cabaret du Neant and seen the coffined living decomposed to a skeleton and back in just minutes!  To be Relentlessly Informative, the “punctured pattern” was an eyelet-like effect punched in the cloth with pinking irons. It was a cheap way to achieve a lacy look for grave-clothes and linens.

Ghosts in Grave-clothes This post-mortem negative from Norway shows the "punchwork" commonly used on shrouds and grave-clothes http://digitaltmuseum.no/011015155636
Ghosts in Grave-clothes This post-mortem negative from Norway shows the “punchwork” commonly used on shrouds and grave-clothes http://digitaltmuseum.no/011015155636

In some variants of this next story, which was a popular urban legend, the ghost was recognized by a particular detail of the shroud.

A woman not far from Emly, buried her husband, a few months ago. A knock came to the door some night last month. She asked who was there. A hollow voice answered, “I am your husband, whom you buried, and I am very miserable in purgatory till my debts are paid. Sell the two pigs you have, and be sure you have the money for me on such a night when I call.” The poor woman did as he required, and felt happy at being able to meet his request, either through fear or love (as he appeared with his shroud and pale face.) Between the first and second visit of the ghost, the poor woman went and told her story to the priest; he told her it was all very good, but at the same time to have two policemen in the house when she would be giving the money. Accordingly, after getting the money, the purgatorial and shrouded ghost came and was arrested by the police and lodged in Limerick jail, there to undergo a little more purgatory till his trial comes on. This ghost turned out to be a near neighbor, who is god-father to one of her children. The Weekly Vincennes [IN] Western Sun 15 March 1862

In this account from the séance-room, an apparition draws attention to her burial robe as proof of her identity.

The next one who appeared was Mrs. Mary Ann Waugh, wife of the late John M. Waugh, of Rock Island, who died about thirteen years ago at this place; a sister of Mrs. Hill’s, and also sister of mine. The test in this case was remarkably good, principally in her general appearance of features and the manner she used to wear her hair, and some peculiarity in her burial robe, in the material used, and something very peculiar in the style and make, which she seemed very desirous of my wife seeing, as she assisted in the making of it.  Religio-Philosophical Journal 20 March 1875: p. 2

The shroud was also regarded as an infallible, if nuanced, death token in stories of second sight,  presenting a sort of sliding scale of death.

The event was usually indicated by the subject of the vision appearing in a shroud, and the higher the vestment rose on the figure, the event was the nearer. ‘If it is not seen above the middle,’ says Martin, ‘death is not to be expected for the space of a year, and perhaps some months longer. When it is seen to ascend higher towards the head, death is concluded to be at hand within a few days, if not hours, as daily experience confirms. Examples of this kind were shewn me, when the person of whom the observation was made enjoyed perfect health.’ Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Reformation to the Revolution, Volume 3. Robert Chambers, 1861: p. 290

This seeress predicted the death of a young boy without giving her reasons. After his death, she explained what she had seen:

I carried the boy’s corpse aboard with me, and, after my arrival and his burial, I called suddenly for the woman, and asked her, what warrant she had to foretell the boy’s death? She said, that she had no other warrant, but that she saw, two days before I took my voyage, the boy walking with me in the fields, sewed up in his winding sheets, from top to toe: and that she had never seen this in others, but she found that they shortly thereafter died: and therefore concluded, that he would too, and that shortly. Light 9 February 1889: 66-67

One of these seers had his vision calibrated to a nicety.

Two seers at work, one a gentleman and the other ‘a common fellow’, who were both visiting the manse of an Inverness minister. All at once the common fellow began to weep and cry out that a certain sick woman about five miles away was either dead or dying.

The gentleman seer—naturally the expert—replied, ‘No, she’s not dead, nor will she die of this disease.’

‘Oh?’ said the fellow. ‘Can’t you see her covered in her winding sheet?’

‘Aye,’ replied the gentleman, ‘I see her as well as you do, but do you not also see that her linen is wet with sweat? She will soon be cooling of her fever.’ And so it turned out. The Revd Hector Mackenzie vouched for the story’s truth. Ravens and Black Rain: The Story of Highland Second Sight, Elizabeth Sutherland, p. 62

Shrouds seen via second sight might not only predict a death, but the form or color of that winding sheet.

“Florence MacLeod, spouse to the present minister of St. Kilda, informed me lately, that her mother Elizabeth MacLeod, a gentlewoman distinguished from sevrals for piety and good morals, having come out of her house at Pabbay in the Harris, with a clear moon-shining night, and having sat down to enjoy the pleasure of a calm serene air, and the beautiful prospect of a glittering starry firmament; both of them observed a domestic girl, who had been a native of St. Kilda (they had left the house), issuing from it, covered with a shroud of a darkish colour, and stalking across the distance betwixt them and the house as if she intended to frighten them, and after continuing in this manner for some time, disappeared. Upon their return to the house, the said Elizabeth, challenged the girl for her frolick, who affirmed, with many asseverations, she had not left the house all the time her mistress and daughter were absent: to which the other servants gave testimony. In a short time thereafter, the same girl died of a fever, and as there was no linen in the place but what was unbleached it was made use of for her sowe, [winding sheet] which answered the representation exhibited to her mistress and the declarant as above.” Light 9 February 1889: 66-67

Today, although shrouds are making a comeback in the context of green burials, most people go to their final rest in their own clothing.  Although I haven’t done a scientific survey, I’ve heard from people who have seen apparitions of friends and relatives wearing the same clothes they were buried in. That would not be particularly remarkable–if you saw the clothes at the viewing or funeral, you might picture the visitation wearing those clothes. Where that logical argument sometimes breaks down is when the witness did not go to the funeral or have any information about what the dead person wore in their coffin, but could describe the burial clothing anyway. Such anecdotes reopen the whole question of why ghosts are seen wearing clothes and why, if, as some psychic researchers used to suggest, the dead can project whatever image they want to those they visit, they choose to wear their last outfit?

Other stories of ghosts in grave-clothes or burial garments?  chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

I’ve written before about shrouded specters and superstitions involving shrouds.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.